Scientific curiosity has been the driving force behind Shelley Bull and her contributions to the field of biostatistics. With a decorated career spanning four decades, Shelley has garnered multiple awards in the areas of epidemiology and population health and has become a well-known name within the scientific community. In 2015, she received the Statistical Society of Canada Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work for demonstrating the importance of statistical sciences to other areas of endeavour and for her intellectual contributions to statistical science as whole.  

Grebel owned residence house on George Street

When Shelley arrived at Conrad Grebel College in the 70s to study at the University of Waterloo, she spent three years as a resident before moving to the “George Street House,” a community made up of twelve senior students, supported by the College. She recalled some of her fondest memories of Grebel to be weekly Chapel, singing in the College Choir, and sharing meals in residence and at the house on George Street. “I had a great sense of belonging at Grebel,” said Shelley. “Being part of the Grebel community shaped my personal values about the centrality of community in daily life, the role of consensus in decision making, and the value of service to community. These values carried over into my professional life as a scientist and academic.” 

It is common for students in STEM programs to seek a creative outlet beyond the realm of their daily schoolwork. For Shelley, this included Grebel’s Music and Sociology courses. She remarked that "These courses gave me perspectives outside of a math-intensive program.” She especially remembered Professor Donovan Smucker’s Quest for Meaning in the 20th Century course.  

Shelley was studying Math at the University of Waterloo, and began to feel a pull toward the scientific field in her third year, when many of her professors began incorporating biostatistics into their lectures and as more opportunities to work on research-related projects presented themselves. This sparked the realization of how Shelley could use her statistical learning to answer public health questions, and from there, she began her journey into the world of scientific academia. With foundations established at Grebel and Waterloo, she went on to doctoral and post-doctoral studies in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Western Ontario.   

“My driving force has been scientific curiosity, interest in solving problems, and answering questions about how and what we can learn from data,” said Shelley. “My motivation stems from collaborations with researchers in public health, epidemiology, cancer genetics, and computational genomics with the goal of uncovering individual biological and environmental factors that are determinants of heath and disease. Specifically, I’m interested in developing new ways to learn from data being generated by measurement technologies that are producing new information at an unprecedented level of detail.” 

Shelley Bull

It was this force that led to Shelley’s numerous research awards received from the National Health Research Development Program, the Ontario Ministry of Health, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed research papers and book chapters on biostatistics - further proof of her soaring talent. "The rewarding aspects of my career are working on multi-disciplinary teams, learning from colleagues, as well as mentoring students and trainees to become researchers.” 

While completing her doctoral studies, Shelley married fellow Grebelite Wayne Carrick (BSc 1976) and the two became involved in an Anglican church community and a housing co-operative in London, Ontario. Her professional life has since been centred in the Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Biostatistics program in the School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Her impact has been described as “Contributions to research in medicine, public health, genetics & epidemiology; development of statistical methodology; leadership, supervision, & mentorship in the Canadian statistical genetics/genetic epidemiology communities.” Shelley is currently working with statistical techniques for mining genetic association data to discover and characterize genomic regions involved in complex traits and disease.

Shelley continues to be a pillar in the world of biostatistics research. With her work internationally recognized and utilized in health research, she has established herself with a noteworthy career and a lasting legacy. 

by Farhan Saeed

Dr. Shelley Bull is one of a small but growing community of research biostatisticians in Canada working at the interface of human genetics and statistics. Developing and using statistics to help solve some of the genetic puzzles linked to breast cancer and type 1 diabetes, Shelley looks at both the causes and outcomes of diseases that strike many Canadians. She is a member of a group of scientists working in statistical modelling and analysis in the Prosserman Centre for Population Health Research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health and is a faculty member at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at University of Toronto. She lives in Toronto with her husband Wayne Carrick.

Shelley's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.